Art and the City


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May 7th 2018
Published: May 7th 2018
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Chicago Skyline from Michigan Avenue
Art Institute, Chicago, IL

Joan is so much fun to travel with. So often she reacts like a kid in a candy shop when she is exposed to something new. She can completely lose herself when she reads a book or watches movies and I have to nudge her to get her attention. And so it was for most of yesterday.

Joan is a city girl, of sorts. She was born and raised in Los Angelos and then spent the bulk of her life in Albuquerque. Albuquerque is a city of half-million (metro area) so counts as a city but not really a big one. Los Angelos is the second largest city in the country, but as we are all aware, L.A. grew up in the automobile age and is structured horizontally with freeways tying the sprawling mess all together.

Our older cities, though, are built from a different model. Historically, they grew up, not out. And so it is with Chicago. After the devastating fires of an earlier time, the city rebuilt with brick and stone. And this time they had the advantage of better construction techniques and the dedication of talented architects, like Louis Sullivan. A little later, trying to break through the seventh floor, which seemed to be the maximum height anyone would willingly climb stairs, Otis invented the elevator and, well, the sky became the limit. I believe the nation’s, but not the world’s, tallest building is here in Chicago.

We headed into downtown Chicago yesterday for our first trip into the metropolis. The South Shore Line is a commuter train and brought back memories of my own time commuting in New York City (2 hours each way by car, train, walking, subway, and more walking). This train seemed just as noisy and bumpy, although maybe a bit more on time.

I can’t say the ride was very picturesque. Although the tracks are never real far from Lake Michigan, you can’t see much of it all. Instead the views are of the backsides of old factory and warehouse complexes interspersed with poor neighborhoods including a surprising number of abandoned buildings. The trip takes you through industrial towns of Gary and East Chicago before heading into Chicago proper. The tracks are mostly above ground, but as you get closer to the city center, they dive under frequent bridges, plunging into darkness.

We got off the train at the next-to-the-last stop, Van Buren Street and, unceremoniously, began following the exit signs through the dark and dingy tunnels. Finally we get to a staircase, covered in urban grime, and climb up to the sunlight of Michigan Avenue. The memories it evoked of New York for me were surprisingly strong - invigorating and exciting in a lot of ways, watchful and a bit apprehensive in others.

For Joan, though, it was impossible to wipe the grin off her face as she just kind of staggered around the top of the stairs. I literally had to guide her away from the steps, in part to get her out of the way of other people, but also to keep her from falling back down the stairs. Joan had never really seen a real skyscraper before and there she was standing right next one. Looking up, which is what you are instantly drawn to do, is difficult for us old folks as the neck just doesn’t bend that far anymore.

All I can say is that Joan is lucky she had me next to her yesterday because I can’t imagine that she could have managed to
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Seurat’s Largest and Most Famous
find her way to our destination. She was much too busy taking it all in. Oh, and remember, this is the city on a sleepy Sunday morning!! (Can’t wait to see what she does on a weekday rush hour!)

Anyway, we slowly walked north on the main drag, crossed the street into park-like settings next to the Lake, and proceeded another block to our destination for the day, the Chicago Institute of Art. When Joan could close her mouth long enough to think about something else, she was taking pictures. It really was like a kid in a candy store.

And things didn’t get any easier when we got to the Art Museum. This was one of Joan’s rebellion items and she picked it, I think, because it has probably the best reputation for an art museum in spanning the full history of art. I think it probably gives a good picture of the best of the art world in Chicago. It is comparable in scope and quality to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

But it is just not possible to see this entire museum in one day. And your toughest problem is how to sample it - how do you allocate precious limited time? Oh, and it costs some money to get to make those decisions too. The first experience is the line, which at 10:30 on a Sunday morning wasn’t too bad, but still took us about 20 minutes to get through. We talked to a great young lady who guided us through our options. We ended up with one audio tour device (to share), and a pretty hefty book with each page describing a work of art, in addition to museum admission. With our senior discount we paid $65 for everything.

Faced with a map of the museum that spanned at least four different buildings and three different levels, we were quite properly confused. To sort things out, we headed to the coffee shop for a cappuccino, a cookie, and a spot to study the maps and make some decisions.

We decided to see the modern/contemporary sections first, and then move into the Impressionism collection, which the museum is properly noted for. They allow unlimited photography these days so we took lots of pictures - more than I’m including with this post.

Joan transferred her gaze from buildings to pictures and quickly became lost in the art itself. After about an hour of viewing Warhol, Kelly, Judd, and dozens of other modern masters, we were getting worn out and tired. We finally found the third floor restaurant where we had an OK lunch (but expensive), a drink to calm the nerves, and explored the skyline with the help of a book the waiter brought us that identified the buildings. There is also a view of the spectacular Millennium park which is accessible from a bridge right outside the restaurant.

Then we returned to the museum and took in the impressionists like Pissarro, Corot, Van Gogh, Manet (haystacks), Monet (water lilies), and more. I must say that one of the best courses I ever took in college was introduction to modern art where I learned a skill that I’ve managed to cultivate all my life. And it came back yesterday at the museum. So much fun.

As four o’clock approached, we realized we had to end our trip to get back to the train and get home. Joan was very unhappy to leave, but we will be heading back to Chicago later this morning. What a wonderful day in the city!


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Kandinsky, One of my favorites


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